Episode 13: Ruben
Confused looks. One of them unhooked a device from his shoulder harness and glanced at it intently, then said something interrogative while staring at my face. I repeated myself, and he looked at the device again, then said something to his companion.
Then, laboriously, reading off the device, he pointed at his companion, who was talking quietly… to himself? “It… handle… beast.”
“Thank you,” I said, and wanted very suddenly, very desperately, to see what he was looking at. Instead of insisting, I handed the reins to this second Guardian, and spoke more out of whimsy than any intention to communicate. “Be careful with it, it’s carrying all my belongings.”
But the first Guardian said, “Safe. With us.”
Startled, I said, “Very well. I’ll go inside, then.”
Neither of them stopped me, or even seemed surprised. Did aunerai
Guardians have their own version of Guardian-face? As I passed between them toward the double doors, I spotted another aunerai
jogging up to them and paused long enough to watch this third aunerai
take the reins of my jevi
and lead it away. Summoned? By the second aunerai
I entered into a hall, carpeted and painted and ornate and none of it drew my eye because what mattered was how oddly empty it was. The desk I would have expected to serve as a station for someone stood untenanted. No people crossed its broad length, nor used its stairs. I had never been to the Bleak, but I heard that it too had an antechamber like this, devoid of people. Was this intentional on the aunera’s
part, then, to emphasize the singularity of those entering?
Except that the male aunerai
who joined me did so at a jog, giving me the impression that he hadn’t wanted me to stand alone so.
I didn’t know this male. He was shorter than Andrew Clark, the previous administrator of the aunerai
presence, and immediately I knew him to be harder as well. His body moved like a Guardian’s, or an athlete’s, with a self-confidence and power I found fascinating. Had they handed me to a new Guardian then? Why?
He was a prettier color, too. You have a paucity of colorations… no grays or reds or interesting variegations and patterns. But I liked the smooth clear beige of his skin, and the odd greenish tan eyes.
Like the other Guardians, he had a device in his hand. Unlike theirs, this one was almost as long as his forearm. Stopping before me, he began to speak, stopped in frustration. His was not a face that seemed accustomed to uncertainty, and I watched him, curious as to what his reaction to that uncertainty would be. His mouth creasing at the corner… that was a smile, I thought. Not a full one. I thought his tone was resigned, but like most of my interactions with aunera
, I found it exaggerated, as if you are forced to funnel all the emotional nuances you wish to convey into your speech solely with tone, rather than through a combination of tone, word choice, and body language. The lack of mobile ears in particular… what a handicap!
He handed me the device, startling me. I accepted it, glanced at it and found a blank screen.
It filled when he began speaking.
“…pardon me, duinikedi
. I cannot speak your language yet. Forgive the device. How may I help you?”
Watching the words form after he used them was magical. I fought to keep my ears from flattening to my head. When I looked up, the male was studying me with what I thought might be worry. He spoke, and again the words appeared. All of them were translated without caste markers, like something from an ancient historical text, leaving them bald and direct.
“Have I offended?”
And as suddenly as that, I found myself chuckling. Somehow the lack of ornament suited this particular man. He didn’t have Andrew Clark’s polish, but I liked his disciplined posture and blunt mannerisms. “No,” I said. “I was just startled. I have a letter…” I pulled it from my sash’s inner pocket and handed it to him.
After reading what was on the device, he unfolded Lenore’s missive. A few moments later, he handed it back. “I am Ruben Falzon,” he reported. “And I can show you to her office.”
“Thank you,” I said, watching the translation appear. How did this device work? I’d seen the exposed laboratories at Qenain and knew the machines in them were equally opaque in their workings. Somehow this thing must be capable of hearing, of discerning words, and of finding similar words in the opposite language. Then constructing them with rules of grammar that were… somewhat… correct, and displaying them. Who had created this device? How long had they been studying Ai-Naidari to be capable of teaching it to this machine?
It had to be Lenore. Had she also been a fabricator, to be capable of creating devices? I turned it in my hands, finding it uncanny. As thin as paper, flexible, with the colors and words lying atop it like a film. It felt disposable.
I followed the aunerai
, who was now, it seemed, the administrator of the human colony. A man of a very different character than Andrew Clark, who had struck me as an appropriate leader. It was hard to judge aunerai
castes by sight, for if you dressed to indicate your status I had yet to see a pattern. But I continued to read Falzon as a Guardian from his bodyspeech, and of course, Guardians do not lead anything or anyone, save other Guardians.
It interested me that I was so determined to pin him to a caste, and that my struggle had conveniently placed him in one I might consider beneath me. I wanted very badly to create a context that made sense of our interactions in a way that hadn’t mattered to me during the crisis with ij
Qenain. Among us we speak of ethek
, situations where the rules of society no longer apply; emergencies often create such situations, and during them we overlook the courtesies that otherwise order our society. My previous interactions with aunera
—direct ones, not those mediated by my lord—had taken place during one of those crises. And now that I was attempting to engage them in a normal way, I discovered… there was
no normal way.
How did aunera
do it, I wondered? I would have to ask, when I knew how.
Falzon said something, coming to a halt beside a door. I glanced at my borrowed device. He’d said, “This is it.”***
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